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EDITORIAL | Lightfoot’s safest bet: Saying no to all casino-related campaign donors

Common sense says the mayor should make it clear she will not accept a nickel of money tied to casino-interests, even if the donor is an old pal.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot
“I’m going to play by the book,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot says when asked about how her decisions on a casino in Chicago and other gaming matters could affect her campaign contributors and clients of her old law firm.
Sun-Times files

What the no-nonsense answer should be: Not a nickel.

What the question is: How much in campaign contributions should Mayor Lori Lightfoot consider reasonable to accept from gambling companies and gambling company executives?

In the last weekend of its spring session, the Illinois Legislature passed a bill allowing for a large casino in Chicago. Some of its 4,000 or so gambling seats could be placed at O’Hare and Midway airports, if Chicago so chooses.

Officially, the Illinois Gaming Board, which polices casinos statewide, will call many of the shots as to when and how a casino hits town. But Lightfoot will, of course, have much to say on the matter. Nobody’s going to build a casino in Chicago without the cooperation and consent of the mayor of Chicago.

We are not for a second suggesting that Lightfoot has yet in any way compromised herself. But in a city with an alarming history of pay-to-play politics and a gambling industry with a checkered past, common sense says Lightfoot should make it clear she will not accept a nickel of money tied to casino interests, even once or twice removed.

It is a matter of appearances, if nothing else.

We’re raising this issue here only because Lightfoot, in a Sun-Times story on June 21, was not as forceful as she might have been — as she should have been — in distancing herself from such contributions.

“The mayor will adhere to the city and state’s existing fund-raising restrictions and the previous administration’s executive order,” the mayor’s staff told reporter Robert Herguth, “which created more stringent rules prohibiting lobbyists, city employees and city contractors from contributing to her campaign committee.”

Forgive us if we sound overly cautious, but we’ve been around. We detect wiggle room.

As Herguth reported, Lightfoot has personal or professional connections to a number of people who have at least one foot in the casino world.

Among her campaign contributors were law-firm colleagues and clients who might stand to benefit from the decisions she makes about a casino.

Leslie Bluhm and Meredith Bluhm-Wolf, sisters who have a financial stake in the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, gave a total of $212,500 to Lightfoot’s mayoral campaign fund. Leslie Bluhm, a friend of Lightfoot since their days in law school together, also co-hosted a fund-raiser. Leslie and Meredith are the daughters of Neil Bluhm, the billionaire real estate developer and casino operator.

Greg Carlin, a top Rivers executive, contributed $1,000 to Lightfoot’s campaign. Craig Duchossois, whose family operates Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights with Churchill Downs, gave $50,000 to the campaign.

Lightfoot says campaign contributions won’t factor into decisions she makes about a casino or anything else. She will always look out, she says, for the “best interests” of the city.

We’re inclined to believe that. We really are. That’s why we endorsed her.

But assurances from a politician can never be enough. Not in this town.

The mayor should exercise extreme caution, as she knows, in accepting campaign contributions.

And money from gambling interests, even from old friends, should be off the table.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.